posted 3 years ago

Should Cyclists Be Allowed To Run Red Lights?

Campaigners are pushing for new rules in London to allow cyclists to go through red lights in certain situations.

The predictable and glib answer to this is, “they already do!” Except, they don’t. It’s a perception thing. When I’m sat in my car, stuck behind a huge queue of others in their motor vehicles, it can be galling to see a cyclist sail through a red light. Galling but not representative of all cyclists.

Majority Wait at Lights

The many cyclists who wait on red are, it seems, invisible – they simply do not register with shock-jocks, local newspaper letter-writers or a foam-flecked commenter on social media. This is due to "outgroup" perception bias – one cyclist runs a red so ALL cyclists must run reds, even if they don’t. Transport for London sent out a clipboard team to measure red-light-running by cyclists – the observers found that 84 percent of cyclists waited at reds.

Some of those who rode the reds were clearly doing so for reasons of speed and convenience, but many were doing so for safety reasons – it’s often safer to get out of the way of revving, impatient motor traffic. And because it’s rather civilised and sane to wish for cyclists not to die at traffic junctions London may join other world cities and allow cyclists to turn left on red, when it’s safe to do so (and always ceding priority to pedestrians, of course).

Cyclist Idaho Law

Idaho Law

The four mayoral candidates in London are in favour of what’s called the “Idaho Law”, so named after the US state where cyclists have to stop and can then roll through a red light if the way is clear. Such a law is normal in many countries.

Earlier this year Paris started to allow cyclists to ride through many red lights, and cities in Germany and the Netherlands have allowed this for some years. This isn't a “cyclist” thing. If you've ever driven in America you’ll have noticed that, with the exception of New York, motorists can turn on red, if it’s safe to do so.

Cyclist Idaho Law Paris

Allowing cyclists to turn left on reds is very much worth trialling in the UK. Apart from anything else it might benefit motorists. The huge growth of cycling in London in recent years means there are sometimes 30 to even 60 cyclists ahead of motorists at lights. If some of those cyclists were allowed to slowly and safely exit the junction on red – giving priority to pedestrians – that would reduce the number of cyclists in front of you in your car. And if it works for London it might be rolled out in the rest of the UK too.

Unfair to motorists? There is a solution to that – get on your bike...

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Carlton Reid is the executive editor of He drives a Nissan Note "but not very often." He has written a best-selling history book on motoring's cycling beginnings, Roads Were Not Built For Cars.